California Credit Union League's 61st annual meeting, but you couldn't escape talk about him. Criticisms of National Credit Union Administration Chairman Norman E. D'Amours could be heard in meeting rooms and hallways throughout the swank Century Plaza Hotel and Tower, where 1,200 industry officials gathered Nov. 16-18. Regulator-bashing is a popular sport at such conferences, but here the complaints at times went beyond the ordinary. Mr. D'Amours, at various times, was described as capricious, abrasive, and a bully. Indeed, even credit union officials who have agreed with the chairman's agenda of helping small and community-development credit unions criticized him. Rich Leigh, chief executive of Auto Club Employees Federal Credit Union, Los Angeles, took the unusual step of codifying grievances into a "Credit Union Bill of Rights." He read it to officials attending a Nov. 18 government relations forum. "The Congressional oversight committees and Justice Department shall be notified of regulatory abuse of authority and be requested to formally investigate when NCUA attempts to perpetrate regulations injurious to corporate or natural person credit unions," the statement read. The document spelled out nine other tripwires for notifying the federal government of alleged NCUA abuses, including invasion of privacy and violation of due process. At the same meeting, Elliott Blackstone, corporate secretary for San Francisco Police Credit Union, said the league should strongly support legislation that would expand the size of the NCUA board to five directors from three. That way, Washington would understand how much the industry dislikes Mr. D'Amours, he indicated. "We pointed out to the White House that, in California - a state very necessary to the presidency - we very much disapprove of the chairman," Mr. Blackstone asserted. "We understand the chairman may have gotten some of that back." But NCUA officials and other Washington sources have denied rumors that the White House chastised Mr. D'Amours because of his unpopularity in the industry. During the discussion, Chris Kerecman, director of regulatory and congressional affairs for the league and a former NCUA official, said that the composition of the board means more than the number of seats on it. "The personalities of the board members come into play," he said.
*** The National Credit Union Administration sent Robert E. Blatner Jr., its associate director of operations for the West Coast, to address one of the hottest topics in California: mergers. For years so many large California credit unions have aggressively sought merger targets that some smaller institutions now feel threatened. That's changed over the last year, as NCUA examiners have discussed alternatives to merging with larger credit unions, Mr. Blatner said Nov. 16. One of the most important things small credit unions can do - and something they often don't - is to prepare a business plan, Mr. Blatner declared. However, some in the industry have charged that besides talking to credit unions, the NCUA has deliberately held up mergers. Several people attending the session brought up the aborted merger of Patelco Credit Union and First Technology Federal Credit Union. The two parties withdrew their application early this year, but NCUA Chairman D'Amours clearly opposed the merger because he feared it would introduce too much competition into the industry. Some people attending the meeting said the NCUA shouldn't make decisions on such philosophical bases. "If members want the merger and it doesn't present any safety and soundness problems, the NCUA should approve it - period," said one credit union official.
*** Some credit unions are fearing competition from a force that has yet to enter the United States: Mexican credit unions. The North American Free Trade Agreement's impact on the industry was discussed at several sessions. Some U.S. credit unions are going into Canada and Mexico to serve employees of their sponsor companies, but they fear institutions from Mexico moving into East Los Angeles and other Mexican-American areas. Sources said too many regulatory issues need to be smoothed out for border-hopping to be a concern right now. But it wasn't too far from some attendees' minds because of the potential draw Mexican credit unions might have to ethnic communities.